Don’t look now but Javy Ayala is making a name for himself as a fighter to watch in Bellator’s suddenly booming heavyweight division.
A 10-6 fighter, Ayala was considered by most to be an also-ran; but that all changed with Ayala’s last two performances. Coming in as a considerable underdog, Ayala impressed against MMA mainstays Sergei Kharitonov and Roy Nelson, knocking out Kharitonov in 16 seconds and fighting to a competitive decision loss against Nelson last September. The Nelson fight, in particular, opened a lot people’s eyes to what “Eye Candy” brings to the cage and, he says, showed the world that he is ready to jump to the next level of competition.
“After this last fight, obviously I didn’t get the win and there were things that I felt like I could have done better, but my overall performance I felt was great,” Ayala told MMA Fighting. “I feel like after that fight I started to gain a lot more fans just in the Bellator community and, I would think, all over the world people started noticing that I’m at the level where I need to be to be competing at this higher end.”
Ayala, 29, has competed for Bellator since 2013, quietly amassing a 5-3 record in that time. However, despite the fact that he is one of the youngest heavyweights on the Bellator roster and is a mainstay of the division — he will move into second place for all-time heavyweight fights in the organization on Saturday — Ayala was left out of Bellator’s 2018 Heavyweight Grand Prix in favor of more known commodities. He says that although he does think he and Cheick Kongo should have been included in the tournament, he understands why Bellator chose not to and is happy with the recognition and the big names the Grand Prix is bringing to Bellator.
“I feel like me and him should have been in the tournament, but I know these other guys have a bigger fan base, bigger names already, so I understand why,” Ayala said. “I’m just happy to have more fights with them and to keep going out there and do what I do.
“I like the whole tournament aspect — just, who is the toughest of the toughest? I feel like it should have been a lot more heavyweights; like, actual, true heavyweights that fight in the heavyweight category, but other than that, it’s a great opportunity to build your way up and pretty much say that you are the baddest of the baddest. . . [And] I like the fact that they’re bringing on all these big names. I feel like it’s just guys that have more fan bases and bigger names for me to beat up. I’m extremely happy with it. I like the competition, and some of these guys, I’ve idolized since I was younger, so it’s great to have the opportunity to actually go in there and fight them.”
That being said, the Grand Prix situation isn’t perfect. It was previously announced that Ayala and Kongo would be alternates for the Grand Prix, but Bellator CEO Scott Coker has since said that the Bellator 200 match up between Mirko Cro Cop and Nelson would serve as an alternate bout instead. Ayala and Kongo will fight each other at Bellator 199 on Saturday and Ayala feels like the winner of their fight should get that designation over the Cro Cop-Nelson winner, especially considering Nelson was already knocked out of the Grand Prix by Matt Mitrione in February.
“I feel like the winner of me and Cheick should get the opportunity to go in as an alternate, but I know when Scott announced me and Cheick as alternates, he said we were the first round of alternates so I figured there was gonna be more,” Ayala said.
“Roy already got knocked out, so I don’t feel like he should get another opportunity to hop back in.”
If he does win on Saturday, Ayala says he would like to fight the winner of Cro Cop vs. Nelson to determine who really deserves the alternate spot in the Grand Prix. First things first though, Ayala has to take care of business against Kongo, and on Saturday night he plans on stealing the show.
“There’s gonna be some fireworks,” he promised. “It’s gonna be a great fight for the fans to watch and enjoy.”